I’m sure you’ve experienced it as well, but there are times when a wine, something out of the ordinary, turns my head and grabs my attention. It can occur with just about any wine. Red or white, newly released or cellar aged, New World or Old World. The color, aroma and flavor may be representative, but there usually is something else “going on,” something more complex and interesting, something that teases my taste buds and palate, that nags at me to find out why.
No question, there is a time for wine tasting (mindful and analytical) and there is a time for carefree, casual drinking. For this tooth-stained enthusiast, however, the former seems to occasionally overtake the latter, even if it’s at home while my wife and I are enjoying the most casual of food. Moreover, the tasting protocol (swirl, snip, sip, savor) is, more often than not, merely the starting point. If you’re like me—curious why that wine is so unique and appealing—then you start looking for answers.
Your search begins at the bottle labels. The front label contains the tightly controlled, governmentally required information: producer name and address, vintage date, brand name or varietal designation, source of grapes, plus health warnings and other mandatory information. However, the back label is where you begin your search begins in earnest.
It typically contains info about the winery’s history, special mention of their estate vineyards that may have been sourced, vintage/weather highlights, palate-teasing aroma/flavor descriptors, and recommended food pairings.Your next location to access is where the “meaty” stuff begins to be revealed: the producer’s Internet website (usually found on the back label). Once there, click the link for wines that are available for sale (Purchase, Shop, Acquire, etc.), and then click on the specific wine that interests you. It often provides specific vineyard practices, plus what special or unique winemaking routines were employed.
Details like the following, which I encourage you to research and understand, are often to be found here:100% varietal, or blended with other grapes (color, aroma, flavor); whole cluster fermentation (structure and complexity), or destemmed; stainless steel (fruity), or barrel fermentation (mouthfeel); new barrel aging (maximum oak) or neutral (minimal); malolactic fermentation (smoothness); sur lie aging (richness and silky texture); unfined and/or unfiltered (clarity).Though not all-inclusive, the above typically reveals most relevant winemaking practices, and should help explain why that wine was so intriguing. However, if you’re as obsessive as I can occasionally be, there are a few more sources for you to explore. While still on the Internet, click on the winery’s link to Trade and/or Media information. There are occasionally marketing-oriented details not found above that distributors often utilize to promote the wine.
Also, feel free to place a toll-free, 800 phone call to the winery’s Tasting Room. And lastly, if you still feel there is something “going on,” not otherwise disclosed, send an email to the Winemaker. While these last two options may seem to be "over the top," both sources seem delighted to receive and respond to inquiries. (And why not? No different than receiving them during their winery tasting sessions.)In closing, implicit in the above is that you have a grasp on the basics of wine appreciation. Notions of body style, acidity, tannins, sugar, structure and texture should already be familiar to you. If not, you should get up to speed on those and then transition to the routine outlined above. Either way, good luck in your pursuit! The more informed you become, the more enjoyable and interesting wine appreciation becomes.